If Ladarius Green was considered the Ferrari of tight ends, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner hopes Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron can be the Ford F150.
Asked about the tight end position and potential roles of McDonald and new free agent Ebron, Fichtner said he hopes to have versatility and options within the position. The quote via Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews.
Randy on if they can use Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron together: I think it automatically puts yourself in that position. Now again, availability is the biggest issue when you play that position. You have to be able to play it as a race car and also like a Ford truck, too.
— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) July 29, 2020
Availability takes on different forms. The ability to function as a blocker and receiver in the Steelers’ offense. To line up as a traditional, in-line tight end, hand in the dirt, and block a linebacker in the run game. Being displaced from the box, standing up in the slot, and making an impact over the middle. McDonald struggled in both areas last year but on paper is the better blocker whereas Ebron has largely functioned like a big receiver who occasionally lines up in a three-point stance.
Then there’s durability. Fichtner wants McDonald and Ebron like a Ford truck. In their careers, they’ve been more Ford Pinto, bursting into flames anytime they’re hit. Simply who is available to play may shape their roles. Lack of availability for the position last year hurt the offense even more, forcing a trade for the underwhelming Nick Vannett and 5th round rookie Zach Gentry into action.
Ideally, both men will play roughly 500 snaps. McDonald played about that many in 2018, his best season, while Ebron would function best in a semi-limited role that doesn’t ask him to block like he’s Heath Miller. They’ll hopefully make an impact in the red zone too, lending a helping hand for a unit which ranked dead last inside the 20 a year ago.
As we wrote about this morning, the future for both men are up in the air. Given the cap constraints the team will face in the offseason, McDonald and Ebron may be on the chopping block. Just like in the car world, football is always looking for the shiny new model.